Friday, September 18, 2020

Wonderful News!

Life can be weird for Demon City contributors, but The New Yorker has reported that Vanessa Veselka has The 2020 National Book Awards Longlist for Fiction for her new book The Great Offshore Grounds.

Vanessa wrote about just a few of the weird corners of the real world she knows about for Demon City, including The Flower Sellers and the Industrial Core in the Sketches section.

Here's the bit she wrote about the FBI for us, all laid out, click to enlarge it:

FBI Files by Vanessa Veselka


Field Offices and Files

 

The FBI has field offices in many towns where someone can walk in and ask to speak directly to an agent and make a complaint. All agents of a certain rank are required to do one desk shift a month. It’s about as loved a shift as KP duty in the armed forces. Even though all reports are recorded, the agent at the desk has full power to decide if you’re basically a “5150” (slang for ‘crazy enough to commit’ that comes from a California code) and note that on your report.


Who has records of unsolved murders?


In the public imagination, there is a great and perfect database tracking all unsolved murders with DNA matches, MOs, and the signatures of killers. There is not.


The part of the FBI that deals with serial murders is Kidnapping and Missing Persons. Traditionally the department is also grouped with Bank Robbery, perhaps because of the potential for hostages and repeat behavior. The problem is that when a missing person report is filed in one state, while a photo may be circulated, details are often not. Moreover, most reports are teenage girls who ran away so unless the girl comes from a family with money, access to news media, lawyers or social power, little attention is paid. This means if someone is killed in one state, and the body dumped in another, it’s unlikely to appear on anyone’s radar if the family doesn’t have connections or the story doesn’t attract media.  


 ViCAP


The national homicide database (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program or ViCAP) is supposed to close this gap, but the database has always been a bit of a sham. Initially, the FBI asked local and state agencies to enter thirty years of unsolved homicide data. But entering the data is non-compulsory and the initiative came without extra funding for the hours needed or staff. As a result, many agencies never added their unsolved cases. There are other reasons data might not be entered.


1)    Detectives have to triage their cases and might be overwhelmed with current murders. They might want to see the data entered but can’t waste time on history right now.


2)    There are also turf wars between agencies. Local agencies might not want to share with state agencies and neither might want to deal with the FBI. They might fear that if their data goes in the FBI might get the criminal first and credit for the collar, which might affect promotion and career advancement opportunities.


3)    In urban centers, data might not get entered for political reasons. Police chiefs often don’t like the number of unsolved homicides a department may have made public.


4)    In rural areas or government-phobic backwaters, data might not get entered because of a general mistrust in any federal program.  As a result, the database has major holes, often in the places where most crime occurs. For many years the Texas numbers, for instance, did not include the Houston (as well as 28 other counties).


 The national DNA database, whose DNA gets entered and how, is also highly political.



In general…


City Police have jurisdiction over cities. Mayors usually appoint police commissioners so they are prone to behind-closed-door local politics (unions, special interests, favors etc).


Sheriffs have jurisdiction over and highway and rest areas. Sheriffs are often elected so prone to external political optics.


FBI has jurisdiction over everyone. Everyone hates the FBI.


Records


Most states have an established time limit for keeping files. Once that time passes, a file that wasn’t linked to a homicide can be destroyed. The problem is that many files remain in missing person limbo because the body was never linked. Theoretically these records are digitized and stored in some way but many never made it out of paper form. Between 5-7 years most records that don't result in connection are at risk of being destroyed. 



In other news, a new Cube World is out--that's #23--and LotFP default-setting adventure called Screaming Lake 

It's 10$ and has evil priests and living sound. Enjoy.
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Friday, August 28, 2020

Inside-Outside Dungeon

 You can get killed outside or inside...











29 pages plus. 15 bucks. Lots of art. Now available in The Store.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Right To Suck

So here's a thing a game designer said. It's a simple line of reasoning so I'll just quote it:




The first obvious conclusion here is that if this incredibly elementary idea wasn't even brought up, these game design circles this designer hung out in weren't exactly great or productive places to hang out and someone smarter should've been around.

But more importantly it's mind-blowing that "Do it if you can do it well" is presented as a conclusion to a train of thought rather than an easy second step. Because, of course, whether you did it well is subjective.

It's subjective not just in the sense of one snarky english major will argue that, say, Blood In The Chocolate is an effective satire of the perversity and brutality of colonialism and another snarky English major will argue it isn't and it just feels racist, (and the same dynamic is true for sex in Hot Guys Making Out, or Bliss Stage, or fascism in Warhammer 40k, or any other difficult issue in any other game) it is also subjective in a second and more important way:

Two actual people actually picking up the actual book or playing the actual game and dealing with actual (let's assume) totally valid trauma can have two different actual responses to the edgy art based on their lived experience. For one it may be therapeutic and for another it may be retraumatizing.

So:

1. How the fuck does any adult end up with a platitude like "Just do it well"? How is that remotely acceptable as the cutting edge of thinking on whether you get to morally condemn a fellow human being for their art or not? 

2. And, subjectivity aside, how does anyone learn to "do it well" without doing it poorly a few times first?

Put your answers in the comments.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Demon City Coming Along

These just arrived from the graphic designer (yes, there are typos). Click to enlarge.





Monday, August 3, 2020

Unlimited Spellbook Rule


Somewhere, in all these dusty RPG books, a great idea got lost--that spells are for wizards, and wizards should have to look them up.

This is also a nice option for those of you who don't like Vancian magic's whole "out of spells for the day" thing.


UNIVERSAL SPELLBOOK RULE

Basic premise

A wizard can use literally any spell from any book they can find, including ones for higher-level wizards. Another edition, another setting, Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer, Shadowrun, Sea Dracula whatever. They can even use spells from non-gamebooks like the Lesser Key of Solomon or whatever. It doesn't even matter how many spell slots you have left--you can just keep going at 0 if you're crazy enough.

How this isn't as good as it sounds:

Base chance to succeed is 60% plus or minus modifiers below. Misfires are nasty.

(Minimum chance, no matter what modifiers are applied, is 5%)


Interpreting the spell:

To start with, the casting player reads the spell aloud, stopping whenever the spell refers to a number (5' or level-number of targets or 3d6) or a game mechanic that doesn't exist or work the same in the native system (referring to saving throws or a dice pool in a system without them, for example).

The player then must translate the spell, as follows:

-Each time the player reaches a number they can propose the number remains the same or they can propose an alternate number or range that they believe is an approximate local-system equivalent of that number (for example, if a spell from a 2d6 system says +2 the player could propose a +3 for a d20 system).

-Each time the text refers to an alien game mechanic, the player must propose an alternate way to account for that feature of the spell. For example, a spell which reduces an enemy's Dodge Pool might instead reduce their armor class and saving throws in a system without a Dodge Pool. If the spell costs Magic Points and the native system has no Magic Points then the player might propose a loss of hit points or a save vs a loss of hp. Numbers again must be provided.

If the GM agrees with the translation of a given change or thinks the change makes the spell less powerful than it is meant to be in the original system, it is applied to the spell description.

If the GM doesn't agree with a change because it seems to make the spell more powerful than it is meant to be in the original, the change is still applied but the caster subtracts -10% from their chance to successfully cast the spell.

Ritual actions or components from the original still must be performed/used.


Other Modifiers

Modifiers based on the caster

For every point of wizard's intelligence +1%

For every level the wizard has +1%

(What if the system doesn't have D&D-style stats and levels? Then GM estimates caster competence and experience on a scale of 1-40 within that system and applies that as a lump sum modifier.)

Modifiers based on the spell

The book the spell is from is not an RPG book: -40%

Same basic game (all editions and retroclones of D&D are "the same basic game", for instance) but a spell level the caster's not normally able to access: -5% per level differential

Different basic game (or not a game) and the GM thinks it's more powerful than the caster's normally able to cast, that is, it looks like a "higher level" spell: -20%

This spell has already been successfully cast by this caster: +2%

Different era of magic: -5%
The eras are
-70s-80s and modern retrogames
-90s
-21st century


Succeeding in the Roll Means...

The spell works as described. Succeeding in the casting roll does not mean you get to skip any other die rolls that may result in success or failure within the spell description.


Failing The Roll Means...

The spell is cast in a way counter to the PC's goals and the more powerful the spell, the more powerful this backfire will be. Most backfire dweomers will simply take a choice that the spell gives the caster and make a different choice. Usually this is a choice of target: a Power Word: Kill spell miscast will, obviously, kill the caster, a miscast healing spell will heal enemies, etc. but this can also apply to other choices--a wizard using a Minor Creation spell to create a bear trap might instead create a foul-smelling mushroom that attracts monsters, or a wizard trying to change the weather to create rain to kill a fire elemental might summon a hurricane, unless that's also fine with the caster, in which case it might result in boiling heat.

Since magic cares more about will and intent than physics, attempts to game the system won't work--a caster who is immune to flame who botches a fireball will be struck by an ice ball, a caster trying to fail a healing spell on purpose in order to heal enemies and make peace will end up inflicting wounds on their allies, etc. Trying to take advantage of the "cast this spell before" modifier by making lots of low-risk Wishes for instance ("I wish for more toothpicks") won't work because the backfire is as powerful as the spell itself, not the way the caster chooses to use it.

A miscast should create a problem approximately equal to the expected benefit but, more importantly, the fear of a miscast sending the spell into the hands of the GM should act as a self-balancing mechanism on the power of spells chosen.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

An Unrepeatable Test Of A Theory About Games

The Problem of Tests

Theories about the impact and function of tabletop RPGs games are notoriously difficult to test. Playtesting--that is, testing whether a game can be fun for some people or whether they can understand the rules--isn't so hard, and testing whether people will buy a bunch of copies is easy enough so long as you can get the game out, but theories about, say, whether a game genuinely teaches people things or makes them act a certain way require a degree of scholarship and funding rarely pointed at tabletop.

Once in a while, though, chance can provide an opportunity to test a thesis that USC won't ever get around to.

We are in such a position right now. For about the last 15 years a bold thesis has been frequently been bandied about, one that is, roughly, the inverse corollary of things like "video games cause violence", and that thesis is: certain games can make you a better person.

People who want you to be less racist, less sexist, less homophobic, less prone to violence and unnecessary harm, and just plain more empathetic have been making games, and many have made great claims for this approach.
Andy Kitkowski, importer of Maid and Ryuutama, and the founder of Story-Games.com--an early home to many empathygamers

I don't think anyone ever expected this to be very easy to test. How would you track all the people who played these games, much less the changes in their attitudes toward the suffering of others?

You can't do a survey: people want to be good or at least present themselves as such. The only way to test morality is when there's something at stake. Goodness is much less about identifying what's right than it is about what thing that you want would you give up for what's right. Everyone is good when there's no cost to it.

The vast majority of moral decisions people face aren't "Is it bad that a baby dies in a fire?" or "Is it ok to stab a dog?" they're "Would you run into that fire to save the baby?" or "Would you stab a dog for a dollar?". Even assuming you had the money, it's difficult to ethically test such questions--the days of the Milgram Obedience To Authority Experiment (where we discovered that people would willingly shock an unseen person to death just because someone in a lab coat told them to) or the Stanford Prison Experiment (where we found out that if you gave a bunch of college kids a summer job acting like prisoners and prison guards they would soon end up acting exactly like worst-case-scenario prisoners and prison guards) are long gone. Many people now would say it's ethically questionable to put a test subject in a position where they were even tricked into thinking they'd kicked a dog.


Lucky Us

Despite all this, there was a surprisingly thorough and unusually clean test of whether games that wanted to increase empathy actually did last year: the designers, boosters and most enthusiastic proponents of the most well-known empathycentric tabletop games were given a test of empathy and they all failed. Like, a lot, to a degree you might be tempted to call "hilarious" was this experiment not carried out--with Mengele-like unrepeatability--on a living person.

Here's what happened: a person in their community was accused of a felony none of them had personal knowledge of. The news reached nearly everyone online in that community. No proof was presented and the main accuser had been diagnosed with BPD, a mental illness heavily associated with false accusations. In a word: there was ambiguity.

The only two remotely morally acceptable things for anyone to do in this position would be:

1) Investigate (or advocate for and then read a thorough investigation) before taking any action. (We might call this The Activist Morality approach.)

2) Say and do nothing and if asked go "Not my circus not my monkeys"--which might not be great but is, in effect, what every one of us does every time we walk past a homeless person and don't immediately give them as much of our income as we can possibly afford. It's what you might call the Pragmatic Morality approach. (This is the one the majority of people who didn't know the subjects involved chose.)

The prominent empathic game advocates chose neither option. Not only that, every one of them decided to actively avoid and advocate against investigating in any way. Which is a bizarro level of anti-morality you expect out of like crazed Pharoahs in bad pulp fantasy or, like, the president. ("Information, you say? Speak not!")

And by "investigate" we don't need to have a high bar: literally not one game designer or gadfly asked anyone involved even one question about the details before making a decision. 

To top it off, the number one actual real-life witness and authority on the situation was exactly the kind of person held up as most in need of Being Heard in empathy circles: a queer woman of color--and one who openly stated that she was available to talk to-, and provide details to-, literally anyone who wanted to investigate and had personal knowledge of the facts behind all the important accusations being made. And she wanted to. Still wants to.
Michelle waiting for you to call her. 

At the bare minimum, the empathic, moral, intersectional, suffering-minimizing thing to do when the stakes were felony-level-high would be to maybe not say shit if you hadn't done any homework. 

None of the game designers who were so exercised about the case did anything to try to figure out more than they did before making a judgment. Within the week, they'd all immediately taken action under the assumption the claims were true, while everyone outside tabletop had done the opposite. The test was done: tabletop games designed to teach people compassion and empathy apparently don't work. They do not have it.


A Few Specific Examples:

The award-winning designer of a game about the perils of rendering uninformed judgment and escalating too fast based on it (Dogs In The Vineyard) immediately rendered judgment and condemned the subject for contacting him privately in repeated attempts over the years to find a way to de-escalate internecine tensions with all the Empathetic Game Designers.

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The designer of a game about how rebellious kids have to fight authority while avoiding falling prey to vanity or pride or any of their own worst instincts while doing so (Misspent Youth) appealed to every authority they could find to condemn the subject. When asked why he assumed this was all true, he couldn't say--though the subject had once given the author's game a bad review. 

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The advocates of SWORD DREAM-- a supposedly more woke and empathic take on old school RPGs, which declared "We call people in before calling them out" did not call the subject in. They then spent the following year accusing each other of harassment and abuse, removing the "no lying about people" and "make every effort to resolve disputes" rules from a major OSR forum mostly because the subject was the one who proposed them in the first place and driving the moderators over the forum to literal tears and resignation over disputes where nobody got called in, nobody was treated empathetically, and nothing got resolved.

Great boosters of trans-friendly gaming like Monsterhearts (whose creator dogpiled the subject years ago, apologized, then dogpiled again) gleefully ignored trans game designers, trans artists, trans models and trans consultants on the subject's games to repeat white cis dude's claims about them.
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A variety of advocates of inclusive gaming, who took special pains to include a rainbow of genders and skin colors and sexualities--when not getting nailed on video (as Adam Koebel was) for freaking out their own female players with graphic descriptions of sexual violation--immediately assumed the crying white woman who was simply too distraught to take questions at this time was telling the truth and the black woman and the latino woman and all the other less-famous-in-gamer-circles-because-less-like-gamers women were straight up lying.

Those responsible for bringing Ryuutama--the soft, cute morally ungrey fantasy game championed as a less conflict-driven alternative to D&D--from Japan to the West, took special care to repeatedly spit random vitriol on the accused, and Ryuutama-playing game developer advocates of "Soft D&D" did the same, then started accusing each other of being racist or too mentally ill to talk to without even, like, a short conversation via DMs to see if maybe that could be sorted out like adults.

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Even the whitebread morality of authors of games like Marvel Heroic RPG got tested: authors of games all about narratives where someone stands up for what's right even if its unpopular, where even Galactus and Magneto get a trial, did not grant that maybe it would be best to wait for someone to actually make sure before unleashing hell on them. 

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An author of a famous video game about understanding mental illness, who was herself a victim of a vengeful ex's weird sex claims to an internet mob joined an internet mob dedicated to carrying out what the major queer black woman witness explicitly stated was the revenge fantasy of an angry and mentally-ill ex.

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An author of a game about the terror of not, as a woman, being listened to, did not listen to the witnesses. Who were all women. They didn't even read the women's statements carefully enough to realize they'd done that.
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And, probably needless to say: all of these authors' most vocal fans joined in--which included each other. These folks not only wrote supposedly-empathic games but enthusiastically played and boosted one another's games. If the thesis of empathy-gaming is true: these people, having experienced so many empathy-expanding games, should be champions of compassion, understanding, and willingness-to-consider-deeply-before judging.

They, objectively, aren't.


Possible Objections to the Conclusions
and Avenues for Further Research

While I feel safe provisionally saying that the empathy games thesis is wrong, there are some reasonable objections to the thoroughness of last year's test.

First this a test mostly of the creators and online advocates of such games. One might claim that compassion is like a muscle, and the person who realizes a need for a new kind of barbell might be the person who finds themself most in need of exercise. In this model perhaps the creation and advocacy of such games is a semiconscious realization that one is unusually lacking in such virtues. So its possible that while these games are morally improving, they just have an unusually hard row to hoe when confronted with someone so unempathic as a person who believes they need a game to care about other people.

Second, since we're going only on secondhand reports from people who exist in an environment where there's social advantage in performing goodness, we don't really know how much they're playing these games versus any other. Maybe their souls are so degenerated by years of playing Warhammer and Vampire and Shadowrun that a few hours of The Watch and Animal Crossing is not nearly enough to relieve their eternal turpitude.

Third, maybe they're lying when they say they like or play these games. An unusually large number of them do have a looooong and provable history of lying to seem better than they are.

Fourth, maybe the compensation offered was so great that it would be expected to overpower morality. Just as we all go around eating McFries and otherwise unethically consuming under capitalism, maybe they were convinced of the profitability of doing the wrong thing (this is certainly the case with Satine Phoenix and Ken Hite, who explicitly said they were doing the wrong thing for the sake of their careers). Note, however, that since most people said and did nothing and thus performed better than these folks, this compensation must have been specific to creators and vocal advocates. That is, we have to conjecture that the expected clout and/or expected monetary remuneration and or ameliorated feeling of possible loss of such was so subjectively great that they experienced more pressure to be evil than the average person would have. 

Fifth, maybe they just suck at game design. Like: perhaps its possible for a game to teach empathy, they just haven't created that game yet, and these are merely rude and shambling first steps. Maybe someone more talented or intelligent needs to step into the field.

Another objection someone might raise is unusual ignorance: that is, these people not realizing silence was an option or investigation was possible or that a person's ex and their friends might lie on Facebook. I would counter that realizing these things is a form of intelligence known as moral imagination and would have to be included within any functional definition of "empathy" or "goodness" and so I'm not sure that objection applies. One might as well say a Nazi didn't realize a Jew could be, genetically, a person. Not realizing it is not having empathy.

A last objection might be the subject was just so terrible that any wrongdoing could be believed. But if that were true surely after all this time someone would've found some proof of the subject (well: me) doing something bad? A moral person wouldn't pin such a certainty on a thing they couldn't even describe, much less document, on subjects they inevitably dodge when asked to discuss.

Anyway--its nice to have a datapoint. We can at least say that current creators and advocates of tabletop games which attempt to be morally improving made an objectively worse moral decision than the majority of people even after play-exposure to such games.
So Soft, so Snuggly, so devoid of Suffering


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Hey, You Want To See Something Heartbreaking?

If you don't follow gamer drama, lucky you--here's a free dungeon by many of the most well-known authors in Old School gaming, and it's pretty good, too.

If you are up on gamer drama then most of the names will be familiar so, like I said in the title, heartbreaking.

Original post from 2016...


So here's what we did:

You know that old TSR module Palace of the Silver Princess?  Y'know...


When she came it was as exile, descending from tempestuous night in a silver ship. She fled the collapse of her shining principality in the Immeasurable Abide, an implausibly vast agglomeration of paradisiacal cosms beyond the outer void. All she loved of her glittering homelands was consumed by the tyranny that lurks behind all tyrannies: by the Manifest Density which waits at the end of time. An agent of that creed, the Hegemon Ankylose Dysplasia , driven by colossal lust, sought pursuit beyond the Abide but was prevented by his preposterous gravitas and the girth of his pride from passing through the furled dimensions and on to the lesser cosms where the world hangs.

...that one?

Anyway, I farmed out every page to a different DIY D&D Blogger and we rewrote it--I'm shocked with how well it came out. You can use the old maps, but the key has been completely renovated with all new stuff.

Tom Middenmurk wrote a brand new freaky princess legend, Kelvin Green gave us some sweet picture map rooms, Stacy Dellorfano made the Princess' chambers seriously fucked up, Raggi dreamed up some incredibly elaborate ways to screw (or at least frustrate) your players, Humza invented some classy ghouls, James Mal made one of my favorite new trick rooms, and a whole lot more.

Free of course.

So check it here:
Princess of the Silver Palace
by
Tom "Middenmurk" Fitzgerald
David "Yoon Suin" McGrogan
Zzarchov "Neoclassical Geek Revival" Kowalski
Barry "actual Cockney" Blatt
Natalie "Revolution in 21 Days" Bennet"
James "I invented the phrase Gygaxian Naturalism. Sue me" Maliszewski
James Edward "Lotfp" Raggi IV
Trent "New Feierland" B
Humza "Legacy of the Bieth" Kazmi
Ramanan "I make all those cool online generators" S
Reynaldo "Break!" Madrinan
Kelvin "Forgive Us" Green
Daniel "Basic Red" Dean (thanks for picking up the slack on the folks who didn't have time to finish their pages)
Anthony "Straits of Anian" Picaro
Jensen "I talk to Paizo" Toperzer
Logan "Last Gasp" Knight
Kiel "Dungeons and Donuts" Chenier (thanks for the layout!)
Stacy "Contessa" Dellorfano
Patrick "Deep Carbon Observatory" Stuart
Scrap "Fire on the Velvet Horizon" Princess
Ken "Satyr Press" Baumann
and me a little bit


Oh and ps: the ghouls in Trent's last room were invented by Humza, the credits are a little wrong.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Simple Weapon Hairsplitting

I can't remember who wrote it, but there was a blogger post years ago about how every pre-modern weapon developed, from the dart to the bohemian ear-spoon, was developed for a reason. There weren't "good weapons" and "bad weapons"--they had niches they were meant to fill and they did. It's nice because it makes players think about what weapon they're using, and so think about the fight in more detail.

I used this idea a few times--in Demon City, for instance, because it's a game based on horror movies, nearly all weapons, whether a .45 or a flowerpot to the dome, do the same initial damage, but weapons that are better in a given situation vs whatever the other guy has get an advantage to hit.

Somebody recently commissioned me to write a "light and old-school but more tactical" D&D-variant and I used this same idea. The assumption in this game is all weapons do around d6 damage based on the user's class instead of damage by weapon type (in original Warhammer, damage is based on strength) but each has one or more simplified gamey rock-paper-scissors-style feature that make them better in certain situations. So instead of a flail making it easier to get past shields, a flail always ignores shields.

Some notes on these notes:

This game also includes a "block" option, which includes parrying or the like, so in games with no separate parrying step the rule would have to be slightly different.

If a weapon offers a bonus to block I'd usually just translate that into a +1 ac if the user is trained (aka a fighter).

Where it says "bonus" read "+2" in D&Dlike systems.

Cestus: Bonus to hit and damage at hand range (up to arm's length). Minus to both any other time.

Chain: Ignores blocks and shields. Maximum 4 damage. Can be used to grab or grapple.

Club or Mace: Bonus to knock an enemy in heavy armor prone.

Dagger: Throwable. +2 to hit and damage if used in a melee sneak attack. Maximum 4 damage otherwise.

Dart: Bonus to strike at throwing range (30' ish).

Flail: Ignores shields.

Garotte: Can only be used as a surprise or on a grappled enemy. Ignores armor. (Enemy must have a neck.)

Great Axe: +2 damage. -1 to hit.

Greatsword  Can’t be blocked by spears, staffs, pole-arms, can't be used in close-quarters. In a game without a block or parry I'd just make this work like the great axe.

Hand Axe: Throwable.

Heavy pole-arms (halberd, pike, etc): Bonus to damage at spear range (10-12')  An extra block per round at spear range. Can’t be used in close quarters.

Longsword, Shortsword, Scimitar: Bonus to damage and block at sword range.

Net: No damage. A net can be thrown up to 30’ and acts much like a grab on the target’s legs and can be escaped using the same kind of rolls. If the attacker doesn’t hold onto the net (like, they’re killed that round, for example) it can be escaped in one round.

Rapier: Bonus to strike unarmored or leather-equivalent-armor opponents.

Sling: It's basically free and doesn't look like a weapon. Maximum 4 damage but can hit two adjacent opponents at once if you sling a handful of rocks.

Spears and tridents: Throwable. An extra block per round at spear range. Can’t be used in close quarters.

Staff: Doesn’t look like a weapon. An extra block per round at spear range. Maximum 4 damage. Can’t be used in close quarters.

Lance: Bonus to knock a mounted enemy prone. Minus to hit if not mounted.

Warhammer: Bonus to knock a mounted enemy prone.

Whip: Harmless against armor heavier than leather. Maximum 3 damage. Can be used to grab or grapple at a bonus.

For bows: I stuck with the basic D&D idea. The light crossbow is the standard, the shortbow gives you two attacks per round but less damage, the heavy crossbow gives you the most damage but shoots every other round, the longbow gives you more damage than the light crossbow and the best range, but can't be used in close quarters.

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To keep it light, I didn't go nuts with the different kinds of swords (sabres and scimitars supposedly being better from horseback, khopesh swords being better for hooking limbs, etc).


For a non-western game I'd add the shuriken does less damage than a dart but can be thrown twice per round and the indian chakram does less damage but has a better to-hit.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Back When The OSR Was Bad

Recently,  Jeff Gameblog was reminding everyone the reason he got started blogging back in 2004 was that the forums sucked, and he wanted to get away from them. The Old School Renaissance he helped start with that blog is a teenager now. Maybe it's looking at colleges.

BACK IN THE DAY

The OSR authors started as bloggers, and they blogged instead of forumed because forums generally suck but the ideas behind the suck took on three major shapes:

The TSR D&D Fan Critique 

This was an online scene that was basically an extension of the fan activity that'd been around in magazines since the '70s:

  • Their first objection to OSR stuff was that it was new and not old or, as they might put it, not in the same spirit as the things they liked.
  • This morphed into "the OSR with their blogs and using their real names are tall poppies and we hate that" or, as they might put it "preening, money-hungry, arrogant..." etc. 


The WOTC D&D Fan Critique 


At the time this was D&D 3.5 and then D&D 4e in 2008:

  • They saw old school as fundamentally creaky and pointless and said the only reason to play was nostalgia.
  • By the time of 4e this changed to "the only reason to play was nostalgia and everyone who likes it is a white Republican and uninclusive". Which is weird because Jeff "universally accepted lefty" Rients had been blogging for 4 years at that point but whatever.



PostForge/Indie Gamers/Story-Gamer Critique

This was a self-consciously "let's change things" avant-garde scene which started in the early '00s.
  • They had a critique of D&D in general that it mechanically somehow failed to be a fun adventure game.
  • Some of them had another critique of D&D in general that it was bad to want a fun adventure game anyway because it wasn't deep or about crying and didn't involve role-playing. And violence is bad and of course games have to....be instructions? idk.
  • Their main problem with Old School was that, first, it was a kind of D&D, so already had problems, and that some of the bloggers actually were trying to be articulate in a defense of the game as fun which made it all worse.


FAST FORWARD FIFTEEN YEARS

After five years of  mostly blogging, then five years of tentative steps into the market and then five years of being important enough that everyone in the industry knows at least someone in the OSR, things have changed. Summarizing all the reasons why is another post but basically OSR designers made hard-to-deny commercial headway on all fronts and so now....

The TSR Fan Critique was always kinda doomed because none of them could put out their own product without being muddled in with the existing OSR. And the OSR was nice to people who put out things it liked.  And were they not Old and School and Re-Nascent?

Their critique eventually just became "All the OSR people are preening, money-hungry and arrogant except these few dozen specific people who made the games I like".



The WOTC D&D Fan Critique softened because of the 5th edition of D&D, basically, which was, if not old-school, than way more old-school friendly than the previous two editions and 5e's marketing involved using the '80s legacy (Stranger Things, etc) as a cool retronew thing rather than trying to go "D&D is still relevant despite..." which they'd been trying to do since the '90s.

(The weirdest part was when Something Awful stopped being like "Old School is all Republicans" and actually started an ongoing Old School thread.  They switched to "Ok, we just hate Zak and James who we will say are Republicans and uninclusive despite running the most diverse shops in RPGs" but this was actually an improvement.)


The PostForge/Indie Gamers/Story-Gamer Critique suffered because of larger social changes. They had to go from the post-'90s snobby-rejectionism-as-the-cutting-edge-of-creative-critique to talking-about-inclusion-on-the-internet-with-people-you-avoid-irl-is-the-cutting-edge-of-creative-critique. It was cool to say "If you like Twilight that's great! Sparkles! (Even though it's problematic! Sparkles!)" and so it became uncool to yuck on someone's yum. 

Also: as a movement interested in not just game design principles but also self-publishing and engaging a wider audience for independent games, it was hard to argue with people who were, well....self-publishing and engaging a wider audience for independent games. And making things that looked good doing it. And being, objectively, more inclusive than everyone else. The most popular indie gamer forums now can't shut up about Old School games.

The most interesting thing about this was how they did deal with their old critique. They often would flatter OSR creators by saying "Well Old School D&D was bad back in the day, but you guys fixed that with clearer procedures and prose", though the condescending edge that somehow old school is a guilty pleasure for when you just really want mcnuggets has not gone away, mostly because social media still incentivizes rageposts about What Popular Media Doesn't Get About Itself That I Personally Do And You Will Too If You ReTweet This.

The current hip line on old school play and D&D is that Ok, it's fun but that isn't well-explained by the products and some will be confused.

Honestly, I used to have some sympathy for this argument because it was often made by people who'd flatter me and Jeff and other bloggers by saying "Oh now I get it since you explained it" but I've come around to hard elitism on the subject: 

No, the prose and marketing aren't ever perfect, but seriously even '70s D&D at its creakiest is easier to understand than, like, Paradise Lost or Cronopios and Famas and if you can't understand those I don't get why you think you get to tell creators how you'd do it better. If you played any kind of D&D and didn't have fun and blamed the game instead of your friends you're probably a moron. Children play it. Get a grip.

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Basically all the designers who have made these 180 turns on old-school games are still around and none of them have apologized for taking stands that they now admit are completely wrong despite buying, promoting and even making Old School-style RPG stuff by the thousands.

Or, to put it another way, they haven't learned anything, and learning is the only good reason to be wrong. 

I've said before: it's weird to have a popular blog whose audience is made entirely of people you're pretty sure can't read, but maybe some future civilization will appreciate this message in a bottle. Don't do what we did. Don't expect things of people. Light the fuse and run. 
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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dear Chris McDowall and the OSR Discord

Dear Chris,

After the accusations, you had a big conversation about it and explicitly changed the rules of the OSR Discord to allow lying. This isn't my interpretation, this is literally the decision y'all came to: lying is ok on the Discord.

At a certain point, even you and the folks that thought this up (Shoe Skogen, Cavegirl, Aura etc) must realize it has a downside.

Here's some idiot asking Erika aka IceQueenErika aka Erika Muse, a Something Awful troll, for information.
I don't like therpgsite ever since it went all Maga in 2016 but here I am today, going to the trouble to log into my rpgsite account for the first time in forever to post a picture of Erika saying, just days ago, that I am banned from therpgsite.

This is a very small example, of course, there are dozens of more serious ones. Why are you ok with this?

Chris: I understand--running the Discord helps you sell your book, but seriously how fucked up does the community have to get before you reconsider turning your forum into a troll playground?
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Monday, July 6, 2020

Your Radar Sucks


This will be my 15th post under this label:
So, one of the first people I'd never heard of to write a big post railing against me ("the Internet is screaming with the harm you caused" he said "What harm? Who is harmed?" I said "You know!" he said) was Sean Patrick Fannon. He eventually admitted to sexually harassing people.

Tyler Carpenter, an indie gamer who worked on Battletech, beloved by indie game community, and who also attacked me, admitted to sexually harassing people.

Elizabeth Sampat, another indie game darling attacked me for years, then admitted to enabling an abuser who also dated Zoe Quinn and then killed himself.

The moderators at RPGnet were also pretty early on in the hate train. Eventually an RPGnet mod, BlackHatMAtt, was accused of rape. His wife was accused of helping him cover it up (after she'd attacked me, of course).

The folks at Green Ronin games dogpiled into indie gamer hate threads about me and then, well guess what happened?

And we all know Adam Koebel of Dungeon World, who repeatedly harassed me ever since I played his game and didn't like it, was revealed as an abuser.


And now, this guy, Ben Chong:

7 months later:

This dude, who I am not aware of ever having spoken to in my life, ran around tagging a message with Shoe Skogen's stupid #abuseisnotagame hashtag on every message from the witnesses who came out to  tell people the truth. He copy pasted the exact same text like six or seven times. Kimberly points out Mandy's not telling the truth, copy-paste, Frankie points out Mandy's not telling the truth, copy-paste. As always: he didn't engage, provide evidence, or seem to be able to even read what they were saying, just responded like a robot.

Everyone who cares by now has seen the thing where I ask for evidence of any of these peoples' claims against me and they don't have it, even for internet stuff. Everyone knows that people fell in line behind these claims because of instinct and "red flags".

Game community: your instincts suck


People you think "seem safe" suck. It's almost as if the way to find the innocent person would be to look for the person who is always at odds with the endless, evasive, avoidant bullshit that let 

...Adam Koebel
and Ben Chong
and Sean Patrick Fannon
AND Tyler Carpenter
and Elizabeth Sampat
and RPGnet
and Green Ronin...

...all slide for all these years.

The biggest red flag is when someone doesn't argue with you people.

Friday, July 3, 2020

This Whole Cheesy Place

Here for the first time is the whole map of Broceliande, the knights-and-faeries part of Cube World:
Click to enlarge

As I may have mentioned before, it's based on a cheese map of France.

If you zoom in you can see the encounter tables:


The monster lit is bottom left, the landscapes for encounters are top right, and the town generator is at the bottom of this post.

If you like the look of it, the new Cube World (#18) is set entirely there:






Prison-Pyramid of the Vast Maggot and other sources of unnecessary conflict includes...

-The ​Pyramide du Poitou​ gives its name to both this module and the elven barony it occupies. A terrifying twenty-room dungeon-prison for some of the most deadly foes of the Church of Vorn--grim gray god of iron, rust, and rain. The Pyramide is mapped out and the area around it is sketched. Bonus: the Vornic rune alphabet.

-The ​Time Thieves ​are an awful, level-draining pain-in-the-ass mutant NPC party who’ve set up shop in an abandoned fairground within GĂ©rome, a chaotic barony beset by invaders from all sides.

-Like the Pyramide, ​St Paulin Priory​ also lends it name to the area around it. Among the dangers lurking in the ruins of the once proud barony is a mad monk who’s attempted to transform his fellow anchorites into “angels”. It didn’t work of course and now they’re horrible. Even for this place, which has Violet Leopard Orchids.

-Hrothgar Grasp​ and his sorcerous pack-apes roam the wastes of southern Broceliande in search of knowledge. A legendary wizard, not to be trifled with casually and a challenge for very clever players only. Even his monkeys can disintegrate you.

-The Duc de la Rouchefoucauld ​will, at least, only fight you if you ask him to. The bad news is he’s good at it--among the most renowned duellists in Broceliande. The other bad news is he’ll turn you into a fish if he wins. It does mean this module includes duelling rules, though. And fish that once were warriors.

-Vast Shrike Crossing ​is (finally) an adventure suitable for low-level parties. Smart ones anyway. Stupid ones will find themselves blundering into four 6hd monsters all at once and probably, let’s face it, crying. After fighting goblins. And bandits. Ok maybe it’s a mid-level adventure? They’ll be fine, I’m sure.

17 page pdf plus maps and treasure tables

10$ / 12$ on OnlyFans

Email me: zakzsmith AT hawtmayle if you don't already know how to order.